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Fox Tales Chap 3 Revised

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Chapter Three: Soulsickness


The Lady Yayoi walked through the gardens to rest near her favorite seat, an old and weathered boulder that had been part of the gardens before the keep was first built.

Her heart was troubled.  The threads of karma around her daughter’s life ran dark and deep and black, and the knot she saw when she looked her way had only a few  ways out, none of them happy.  She knew this should not be the way the threads should look right before her wedding, and it weighed heavily on Yayoi’s heart, this conflict between her daughter and her husband.

The Kami of this place was a kind and gentle spirit, and whenever she was troubled or worried, the lady had learned that if she sought refuge here, she would always find something, some help for her soul or answer, a dream or a touch or a sign or a kind word.  

She bowed and clapped three times to let the Kami know she was there. Her pain in her heart overwhelmed her, and in her troubles, she let her beautiful robes of silk fall away as she stepped forth from the silk in her fox form, her body  a shimmer of white fur, then jumped on the rock and curled into a ball.  Things were simpler in this form. She lifted her head, and scented the air, and let the peace of the place wash away her pain, relaxing on the sun-warmed stone. Worries about weddings and lovers and bad dreams were alien to her in that form, and she could rest.

The breezes brought interesting smells to her nose...the food being fixed for the feast, the smells of the animals in her garden.  But somewhere, there was the anger of someone nearby.  This smell troubled her, but thinking about it was too hard and she was too drowsy on the rock, and she let the sunlight send her to sleep.

Her consciousness drifted as something warm and golden wrapped her sleeping body, and she shifted into the realm of dreams, chasing something, brown and quick footed, like a chipmunk.    In full fox mode, she followed the creature in her dreams to a place of light.  Suddenly the chipmunk stood still, transformed into a human sized shape, and turned from something mortal looking into  a being of light, too shining and brilliant for her to make out with her fox eyes, a figure that sat down on the sun-warmed boulder.  For some reason, Yayoi felt the compulsion to jump up and sit next to this person.  The being of light leaned over slightly, sighed,  and gently rubbed her head, then ran a soft hand down her back.

“Ah, Yayoi, you have come, I see,” said the voice, soft and welcoming.  “I wish you had come here in your human form.  I might have been able to help you more. So much jealousy and hurt  are running through your family now.  Brother against sister, sister against father.  So sad.”

The fox Yayoi yipped softly, as if in agreement.
“I cannot stop the flow of Karma.  Your people have a destiny beyond the reach of my small area of influence. Each person who is caught in this web must find their own path to walk between the dark and the light.  Yet because you know this, and ask nothing but solace, I will give you my blessing.  Maybe it will be enough.  Maybe you will see tomorrow.”

The Kami began to softly sing:

"Pass through, yes, pass through
And where will this path lead you?
Take this winding road,
Hand in hand carry your load
This road to tomorrow.

"Pass through, yes, pass through,
And will you know what to do?
The foxes stand guard,
The winter wind is very hard
On the road to tomorrow..

"Pass through, yes, pass through.
Going they will let you through
The foxes in red,
Returning might see you dead
You cannot escape tomorrow."

The fox fell into true sleep.  When she woke up half an hour later, she was alone.

Excerpted from The Tale of the Last Feast by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo

==========================================================

The night is our true element, we bakemono.  Youkai, Kitsune like myself,  if you will, are  magic creatures.  Some, in a land far distant from my birth, call us fae.  That works as good as any.

The veils of Shinkiro are thinner at night.   There is less that can be seen, so there is less need for the mirage to hide.  Oh there is far more than we foxes.  Some are even creatures that the night or the moon or the stars call out, and for others, like the children of Yomi who  sneak, sometimes, out of their pits, it is the darkness itself that loosens their bonds.  Others lose the covering that hides them by day.  The creatures that mankind fears most  are always closer at night, closer to the scent of human life and vitality and grief and hunger, even the ones of they create out of their own flesh and blood and lusts and hates. Poor souls that are doomed to become youkai in their own right one day seek out the darkness, too, and yurei, angry ghosts, emerge, preying on the shadows.

The scents of the night are fascinating to us. Those odors, the scent of loss and lust and corruption call to us, even those who work as the tools of the Kami,  hovering near to keep the darkness in check. Those delectable human scents beg us to wrap our magic around that fabric of darkness in their lives, to feast and  laugh when they realize just how weak and foolish and pathetic they really are.

Thus it has always been in the interactions of human and the magic realm.

In the old days, before the humans filled the nights with their lights and noises and bodies,  they would warn themselves to avoid graveyards because they were pained the loss of their dear ones and frightened by their guilts.   Thus we learned the magic power hidden there.  They would fear the long distances between villages, the beautiful and haunted wildernesses where there was little but wasteland and bandits, so creatures of the night learned to hide behind every tree or in every deserted hut.  Desperate, yet drawn to our power, they spun tales of how we would trick them in the dead of night, leading the unwary human astray by foxfire and song and deception to joy in our power and ability and to make fun of their weaknesses.

The tales told by lamplight were not wrong, for in truth, we often did.

But even more, we walked among them as their neighbors and companions.  But when the moment was right, we drifted through their cities and towns, disguised in the shadows, finding plenty of the right moments to pounce, to entice, to feed on their sins and fears and embarrassment.  Many times this was blamed on their own darkness, and we sat back and laughed, watching the poor souls blamed for our deeds as we walked unafraid in their villages and cities and temples and homes.  Where their hearts were dark, we would feed.  As their cities grew, we would feast.


Tonight, I am a walking specter, a yurei, an avenging ghost given immortal body, here to prey on you, oh wicked world, until I find the one who will set me free, free to sink back into the earth, and begin the circle of life once again.  Tonight I will feast on your guilts and fears, looking always for the one who escapes me. The air here is  redolent with just those perfumes of sin and guilt and anger and lust that make the night my banquet table.  It reminds me of a night long ago.  She sat in the garden, her long hair cascading to the ground, her slight frame wrapped up in a fine silken robe.  She had carried a lantern with her, but she was sitting in the shadows where those in the house were least likely to see her.

By the gods, she was beautiful, even sitting there in her sorrow.

Tonight, while the moon is almost full and the air is warm, her memory comes back to haunt me.  It teases me, that  memory, as I catch a scent so much like hers, long ago, a scent of wanting and pain and disappointment, tinged with jasmine.  That scent fills my senses, edging my appetite.  “Nyoko,” I whisper.


This is a part of town I am told that others avoid at night, abandoned to the poor and the foreign and those who seek the thrills that chemicals bring to their human minds.  I can smell it, the taint of a meth factory nearby, the misery of cheap sex, the anxiety of those who have gone past their bodies’ tolerances.  So different from that garden in a far away land.  Yet is was every bit as much a place of despair.

I step out of the shadows, and wrap myself well with Shinkiro, the mirage. I become what someone would expect - young, fair-haired, hungry.  My clothing black and leather and chrome, sliding in and out of the shadows as I walk.  My boots sound heavy on the sidewalk as I follow that scent, that scent that teases me, makes me ache, that reminds me so much of hers..

There she is.  Pale, pale, washed out, although her hair is black like hers was.  There are circles under her eyes, need and hunger within them.  Her clothes hang limply on her, as if bought for a larger person.  Yet even through the haze that the drugs she use create in her mind, I see the spark, the light of the soul within her, a spark that could have walked with her down a much different path.  Ah, my soiled angel - such a beautiful soul light burns within your tired and aching chest, even if it is hazed by what she does day by day and night by night.  I stare at her eyes, admiring her what-could-have-been self.  

I warm my psyche at her soul light.  I had a soul once.  They promised me I could have it again, but so many years have gone, I wonder if the Kami will ever remember that promise.  I wonder, really, if it would make any difference.

The woman, made uncomfortable, finally, at my staring at her, smiles uneasily.  She walks up, rests her hand on my chest. “Want a good time, Mister?” she asks in a slurred voice.  

“Maybe,” I replied. “How good?”

She laughed a little.  I had made her nervous. “Counts how much you wanna spend,” she said.  I see her spark, even while negotiating how low she can make herself go for her needs.  

I breathe deeply.  Her scent sends me back.  I see Nyoko   She is looking into the shadows where I am hiding, carefully moving forward.  I was always good with stealth.   Her eyes light up in the lamplight when I stepped into the circle of her lamp.

“You came,” she whispered to me.  “I wasn’t sure if you could make it past the guards.”

“You coming?” the woman in front of me asks.


I nod .  She slips her arm around mine and tugs me into a hall-way, leading me into a grey and grimy room.  It has an unmade bed in it, of a rumpled blue and brown striped sheet and green coverlet, and a pile of clothes in the corner.  There are empty beer cans on a small table.  The air is musty with the smells of multiple ruttings, beer, and something else...despair, maybe.

Ah Nyoko, how your scent spiked that night, burning with anger and fear – as we lay entangled together, warm in the afterglow of our one and only time the night of your wedding to him - when your uncle and your putative husband dashed out of the wood and grabbed me.  O how I remember how your father carried you off back to the house, even as your brother kicked my naked form into a pulp.  Why do I see you as I look into this woman’s eyes even as she demands payment before we even start? You asked for nothing and we, the men in your life, took it all away from you.  No wonder your hatred for glowed like a torch.  I still remember your taste.

I reach into my pocket, where I have a leaf.  Covering it with Shinkiro, I turn it into the sum she demands.  I watch as she tucks it away.  She turns back to me, and smiles with a smile that never reaches her eyes.  I reach out, cup her face in both my hands, let my mask drop bit by bit.  Her eyes grow wide as my true face and color are revealed, as fox eyes stare into her all so human ones.  Claw tipped, my hands, almost paws keep her from moving.  Her mouth moves, as if to make a sound. But by that time, it is too late.  Having no so soul, I feed upon her life force, pulling all that she is into my being. Beautiful child, I eat your essence, like I should have eaten Nyoko’s. With one last sigh, she crumples. I let her fall. Wiping my face with the back of my hand I watch as her soul, separated from her body, freed from the darkness she was living in, no longer so hazy, moves on to elsewhere.

I remember Nyoko staring into the darkness as they solved their unwanted male problem.  Her soul was very black, that night.

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In a place that only intersected the world humans knew, but was not really a part of it, a rat scurried down a narrow, leaf littered path, sniffing and exploring as  it meandered along.  From time to time it would lift up, scent the air, and look back down the trail as if it were waiting or watching for someone.

In this place of clean air, bright light, and untroubled shadows, shinkiro had no place.  No mirages could be  formed here.  Here a leaf was a leaf in its purest form, not a mask for kitsune magic.  A rock was a rock, not a cover for a youkai waiting for the unwary. The air radiated peace and harmony.  The shadows hid no dark secrets, but were contrasts to delight the eye and heart, giving depth and perspective.  In this particular corner of the realm of the Kami, birds sang for the joy of singing, to brag to their neighbors, to announce newcomers.  As the rat wandered down the path, the birds took up the call, announcing to one and all someone was on the way.

The rat stopped and looked once again.  A pleasant faced, stout man caught up to him.  He wore traditional Japanese clothing, kosode of brilliant yellow, brown vest, red hakama. He also had a red cap tied on his head, rather floppy instead of stiff like most caps of that type. A long and pointed beard decorated his chin.  He carried a large bag on his shoulder, and a sizable hammer was tucked into his obi.   For a moment, he leaned on his staff, looking around him. The road ahead was a  a narrow trail that meandered through the deep forest, and the air was filled with the sweet scent of pine. Light alternated invitingly with patches of cool shadow.  Starting up again, he moved further along the path.  Brown needles crunched under the man’s  feet as he moved  steadily, but slowly uphill. He could hear the sound of running water to his left, but because of the understory growth, shrubs and occasional patches of grass, he could  not make out the stream that ran through the woods.

"She always did like this place," he muttered, “Although I never understood quite why."
As he moved into a sunny patch where the trail was conveniently corralled by large slabs of stone, perfect for sitting on,  he decided it was time for a break. The man  plopped himself down on one of large rocks and looked down the trail to see how far he had climbed, happy to feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun on his face.

“Ah,” he said, dropping his walking stick and swinging his bag into his lap.  “I do believe if feels rather pleasant to sit for a moment.”

His face was kind and open, and obviously used to smiling, and he watched the rat sniff, then walk up to him, looking at him expectantly, with a pleasant grin. “Well, have you enjoyed your exploring, friend Nezumi?” he asked , as the rat, shifted it’s ears and nuzzled his leg.

"Hungry, friend? Let me see what we've got today." Opening his bag, he took out a rice ball wrapped in bamboo leaves.  He slowly unwrapped the food, then divided it in two, and gave a part of it to the rodent who sat there and  ate it happily.  Chewing on his own portion, he turned his head when something caught his attention.  “Ah, I think we’re in for a treat.”

Off in the distance, he began to hear the soft sounds of a lute playing, melodic and melancholy, and then came the soft touch of her aura as it drifted out as soft and as lovely as the sweet notes of her music.

"Ignore the darkness," came a gentle voice singing.

"Ignore the darkness
that keeps us apart, my love,
ignore the shadow --
let no curtain hide,
let no barrier divide
the way of your feet to me."

"Ah, friend Nezumi, I do believe that the lovely lady wants to see us and has just invited us in," he said. “All the barriers will let us through now.” Opening his bamboo water bottle, he took a long drink, then stood up, reshouldering his bag. "Are you refreshed? Ready?"

The rat nodded and they began to walk.

As they drew nearer, the air grew heavy with the sweet smell of flowers and water. Nezumi the rat hurried down the trail, ignoring the man as he entered a clearing.  Before him, a pool of water spread out, rippling with the wind. Near the edges, where the water was calmer, lotus grew. At the far end, a small trickle of water cascaded down the rock face from some secret spring in the cliff behind it.

The music he had been listening to as he entered the clearing faded and stilled.  Two women left the shadows, one dressed in layers of blue and white silk, with a topmost layer of silver and white brocade in waves and flower training behind her.  Her robes were graced with a fine blue sash obi, worked  with silver blossoms. She stood there graceful and regal, with shining ebony hair that fell in a cascade nearly to the ground.  Her companion was smaller, obviously youkai. Her hair also fell in a long black fall, bound low. She was dressed in dark blood red, and there.

“Daikokuten, welcome," said the woman in white. As the light dimmed with the growing twilight, she seemed to glow with a certain inner light. "Please convey my apologies to Nezumi. My foxes are busy on errands right now and he will not be able to play with them."

Daikokuten's eyes twinkled. "Ah, poor rat. He always so enjoys tormenting your foxes, Benzaiten."

She smiled, laughter in her black eyes. "One day, they will catch him, Koku. Then what will you do?"

In this place, free from the miseries of illusion or deceit, where two of the gods of luck bantered happily back and forth, it should have been impossible to feel anything but happiness, the youkai woman’s soul radiated pain and hurt.  Nonetheless, she  rolled out a fine blue mat, then helped Benzaiten kneel, fanning out her kimono skirts gracefully, sitting near at hand. Benzaiten gestured for Daikokutan to join her, which he did, plopping on the ground with a satisfied sigh. Nezumi finally caught up to him and ran up to his shoulder.

“I believe we are reaching a bit of a knot, Lady,” Daikokuten said.

“Oh?” said the goddess.  The youkai woman set up a low table.  Upon it, she placed teacups and a plate of small cakes.

Daikokuten snatched one of the treats and handed it to Nezumi, who accepted  it with an approving squeak.  “For the first time in centuries, the Guardian and Sachio are in close proximity,” he said, taking one of the cakes himself.   “I also believe the one who hunts in the night for your Kitsune companion’s lookalikes  is also in the same area.  There can be no good with those three circling each other.

Benzaiten poured tea for Daikokuten.  He picked up the cup and sipped it appreciatively.

"This time was predicted," said the Kitsune.  “This was how the curse was laid.”

"Yes, Nyoko," said Benzaiten. “It is time for the endgame.”  She laid a hand gently on the woman’s arm.  “Do not worry.   Yurime shall stay safe, and the Tama find its home at last. Once your father wrought, then you did.  Now it is mine.  Time for us to act.”
Chapter 3 of Fox Tales, Revised. There have been substantial revisions
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